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"we will defeat death"

September 30th, 2012 (11:24 pm)

This post is about grieving and dead bodies. it might be triggering.

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ottawa! or: the city with really drunk federal workers.

May 12th, 2012 (12:50 pm)
location: Ottawa
tunes: cheesy sitar-dance music

i'm in ottawa. staying in a hotel where they charge for internet by the day, but it's free in the restaurant. So I thought, "Hey, i'll have breakfast in the restaurant and be able to use internet." Turns out the breakfast was way more expensive than just buying internet for the day. It had one of those menus that didn't have the prices, but I got all self conscious, so just ordered what looked like the cheapest thing. You know - eggs and toast. It's expensive. I feel stupid. One of those class moments where I just don't belong. Like, of course! Hotels are a rip off!  But whatever. I'm gonna stay here till i have to do all my work - and people will have to live with me wearing a Blouse t-shirt and red converse. And they keep giving me free orange juice.

I might have to leave earlier than I want, though. They are insisting on playing that type of music that has sitar music with cheesy dance beats under it. Whyyyyy?

I tagged along with the Norwegian Penpal (now husband) who has an important national tenants conference to attend. because it's our one-year anniversary next week, we thought, "Hey, let's do it this weekend in Ottawa cause next weekend is the Montreal Anarchist Bookfair and we'll be busy tabling and running around in Montreal - probably NOT wanting to let people know we are a couple." He likes anniversaries a lot. We need to actually celebrate THREE - when we first started penpalling. Then when we met and hooked up face to face. And now the wedding.

I am not too into anniversaries. I actually find the very celebration of them a bit depressing. This whole sentiment of "Oh my! We've been together 6 years and still don't hate each other! Let's celebrate!" And this idea that you have to keep buying love or something. But whatever - I like presents and nice hotels!

In Which I Re-visit Direct Action Training and Remember that Ruckus Still Exists

The past month has been a bit of a whirlwind. I went to San Francisco for this intense Training the Trainer for People of Colour for the Ruckus Society. They did this call out a few months ago and I have been feeling like I am in a political rut. So I thought maybe taking a series of intense training would give me some inspiration. And I used to really believe strongly in direct action - and I appreciated their sentiment of "We need to wrack it up a notch and people of colour need to learn these skills so it's not all white people all the time." And I also have this small love for Ruckus - their banner drops get me really excited.



But the training was confusing. It was a bit cult-y - it was 9am - 9pm everyday and they wouldn't share what their agenda was for the whole four days. they would just put up vague section names each morning. So there was no discussion or compromise if people wanted to do something else. Secondly, most people in the room knew more shit than the trainers. There were militant AIDS activists, folks from Oakland, this group called Fighting Evictions from Chicago. Which is great - but it was a bit of a waste of time to learn non-violent direct action 101. I think why everyone was there was this appetite to actually meet awesome POC activists and see what tactics were working. What weren't. To make friendships. Maybe a chance to make a working network so if help were needed, we would be there. But we were told to do that over lunch or after the training.  And third, there wasn't really a real discussion around the definition of non-violence. And this caused a bit of controversy with an Oakland activist really active in Occupy.

She left after two days, giving me her email wanting to stay in touch. But she told me point blank, "You wanna learn direct action? Just do it. These trainings won't prepare you for anything."

Plus, they described non-violent direct action (NVDA) training as within the King-ian politics of direct action - and while I admire those politics, they are not so easily translated to today's political scene. I just believe in some sort of self-defense and not only appealing with love.

But it was helpful to learn workshop design. I have given NVDA trainings before, but unfortunately I wanted more ideas of having an anti-racist lens to them. But I also wanted more ideas for different forms of direct action that would disrupt things, rather than be a spectacle. And they mostly emphasized blockades and banner drops. And i made this comment: "Banner drops are really nice. They look nice. But I don't really see how they are disruptive." And a trainer told me it disrupts peoples thinking.

In Which I Discover I am Still Sick of Debating Whether We Like or Don't Like Smashing Windows

Some folks in Toronto have been reacting strangely to the training. They first ask: Why specifically non-violent? So I feel I need to defend a tactic i'm not completely in agreement with. But aside from the historical usefulness of it all, I mostly respond with, "You know, non-violent direct action is all we do anyways. I mean, all we do is take over the streets, maybe drop a banner. And  we don't even do it that well."  And then some people ask, "Do they consider smashing windows as violent or non-violent?" Which is basically a decision by the group doing the direct action. But then I guess most things could be considered violent depending on who you talk to. But seriously, who would publicly hold a violent direct action training these days? seriously, people! Anyways, the conversations are happening again not only because of various MayDay actions which saw property damage, but everyone's been talking about tactics with the Quebec student strike (also revisited here).

I am also going to this Training for Change "Super-T" training in June. Which basically means living in Philadelphia for three weeks. *gulp*

What I've been listening to:

Santigold - The Riot's Gone
Blouse - Controller
Jens Lekman - Waiting for Kristin

Writing - often it is the only thing between you and impossibility.

April 4th, 2012 (02:14 am)
tunes: Lotus Plaza - Remember Our Days

It's a bit scary to return. I used to write so much and feel more passionate about crushes, socialism, and music. But I have been thinking of writing (or not writing) for the past while. And while I can make excuses about feeling burnt out from writing a thesis, dealing with over a year of G20 mania and legal defense or the trauma of community accountability (or lack thereof), writing was the only thing I enjoyed. I tried for the last while to try different things. Bought an expensive SLR camera, but my pictures are always blurry. Started taking banjo lessons, but my fingers don't work well. And I can only draw stick figures. So I am now refusing to let the various tensions, traumas and sadness take something I used to be passionate about.

Not even sure how many people read LJ or have moved on to more fancy blog sites. LJ seems so 2005. And I feel a bit more boring than the days of casual encounters.

Seeing as my last entry was 2010, here is a small update:

  1. I did indeed get married to the Norwegian Penpal. My name is now Ms. Norwegian Penpal. His name is Mr. Colonized Mutant. It made us realize that friends are so awesome and family can be so hellish. We aren't legally married. We did it SHARIA style (which is when this Imam talks a lot for around an hour and signs a contract printed off a cheap inkjet printer). We got this hippy imam who marries Muslim women to non-Muslim men and calls it legit. You can only find these in larger cities I think. But my whole family was like, "Well, if the Imam says its ok, then it must be ok."  This makes me the first woman to not really get married to a non-Muslim sharia style. It's all about breaking boundaries, my friends.
  2. Nothing has changed since we got married. I hoped to started cooking more and being more organized. But I am the same. The family legitimacy is surprising. I have never been able to take a boy home and have my mom like him. I can now do this AND we get to sleep in the same bed and not even sneak around to do it! Which, honestly, kind of takes the excitement out of things.  And in the morning, my mom cooks us breakfast like she doesn't even care! it's so weird. 
  3. I think my family likes the Norwegian Penpal more than they like me.  They call him the new son and ask him if I'm being a good wife. He lies and says I'm an amazing wife. Then they lecture me about how to take care of him better. I want to say, "Look at him! He's a white devil, remember?" If only the 14 year old me could see this.
  4. We used the money that people gave us for the sham wedding and went to Greece and Turkey. Turkey almost bumped Cuba out of my "favorite place in the world" list. If it only had a little bit of socialism, it might have. But it was amazing to be around mosques and brown people. My friend Salma who I saw in Syria (who now lives in Beirut) flew up with her partner and baby.  We also befriended Finnish anarchists and hung out with them everyday.
  5. The past year has been consumed by intense community accountability stuff personally, politically and in my work place. I say "community accountability" as a brief description of men people called out on sexual assault and people trying to deal. In reality, I can't say the name "community" or even "accountability" without wanting to hold up a "sarcasm" sign. It's messy and hurtful. Aaand I'll probably try to write more about it in the LJ world. I think in the near future I will be grateful for the many conversations that are happening and I am learning a lot. Right now, it's hard not to want to run away. Or feel really really guilty all the time.
  6. Work full time up at York doing PIRG and now CUPE 3903 stuff. It sucks to be up there so much, but at least all the cool kids hang out in my work place. 
I think the issue with writing is related to feeling lost. I felt I had a purpose in my Masters, but since my thesis ended, I am still doing stuff I did before. At least before I was a bit more politically motivated. Since the G20 I have been feeling incredibly lost. The amount of energy put into the legal defense and the immense bureaucracy, cost and criminalization coming from the state was overwhelming. After all that, people are in jail for their politics and I get depressed reading their blog posts from jail. I feel this kind of, "How do we even begin to put up a fight?" - this is a bit serious for me, because i have never really felt this depleted before. The kind of "what's the point?" feeling. And so I attend meetings, agree to administrative tasks with the hope that the passion and hope can rub off on me. Like osmosis or something. But even when I have seen more job actions/strikes than I remember, it all seems very "meh" - unions agreeing to give up job security for people, selling out the most precarious and part time workers. Even some CUPE leader said, "People hate unions right now."

I guess it makes sense to feel tired. And I know that it won't deplete me so much that I will want to stop organizing. I don't think that is the answer - or to tap into the privilege I have to possibly find a better paid job and hope that movements do the work for me. I guess I need more of an indication that we are on the right side of history. Do people ever question that? Like, why didn't I just want to be a successful stock broker and believe in the dream to be super rich like the rest of my family? It's like reading that autobiography of Malcolm X when I was 17 set something off in my brain.

Working through this space, I am trying to figure out this balance between sharing skills and learning more. I began auditing a class (Culture and Modernity) because I wanted to read more Adorno (but am still struggling to understand negative dialectics). But I have also been thinking of how to make community radio more exciting for activists. Because it's pulling teeth to get activist media up and running. So, I am taking the time to attend the Ruckus training for People of Colour in two weeks, and then heading to Philadelphia for a few weeks to do "training for change." Maybe that'll help me with the whole negative dialectics thing?

thinking of continuing

January 24th, 2012 (12:45 am)
Tags:

LJ just sent me an email saying that if I didn't login it would delete everything. And maybe that wouldn't be so bad. But then again, I think my lack of writing has been around the incredible burn out from writing that I got from thesis writing, then the heaviness of the G20 Legal Defense, which ultimately failed (I feel), cause a bunch of people are going to jail. But now that I am feeling a bit more passion, I think I need to get into the practice of random posts. I think people still read this right?

Unfortunately I spent most of my night playing Skyrim, so I'll make time to write tomorrow.

Hope everything is ok out there.

oh hip hop

September 27th, 2010 (07:19 pm)

I returned late last night from my first Prometheus barn raising and all day today we had an alternative "orientation" concert where we brought in a bunch of hip hop bands. We brought in Narcycist and Invincible, who got me more inspired into making more community-based media.

Here is an awesome documentary called "People not Places" that Invincible did. She is pretty funny.


it's been ten years

September 21st, 2010 (01:49 pm)

A Tribute To Brian Rohatyn
from Lisa Valanti

This week the headlines commemorate the life and death of the great
Canadian statesman, Pierre Trudeau. President Fidel Castro of Cuba,
joined former US president, Jimmy Carter, as a pallbearer at his
funeral.

This weekend many of us will travel to Vancouver, Canada, to pay
our respects and celebrate the life, and mourn the loss of another,
perhaps greater, if lesser known, Canadian hero, Brian Rohatyn.

Those of us who had the honor of knowing Brian, 'up front and
personal' are rendered speechless by his death. It is one of those
things, so tragic, so sad, that it is impossible to comprehend, and
equally impossible to console ourselves to his loss.

Brian was just 33, but he possessed that great strength of character;
the natural ease and innocence, a sort of humbleness, that accompanies
those who have acquired wisdom through a profound empathy and
visceral connection to humanity. He was unforgettable. His sincerity,
simplicity and spirit attracted everyone who met him.

Brian was an example, that it is not simply the passage of years that
ripen and mature you; rather your choices, and willingness to cast
your lot with all of humanity that opens you to a dimension of
experience that those who settle to satisfy above all else their own
limited individual happiness, or security can't even begin to
imagine.

Brian paid close attention to world events. It was an organic part of
him. He didn't shut himself off from the reality of an international
crisis situation because it threatened to affect his feelings. Unlike
so many people his age, he rejected cynicism and hopelessness.
And he refused to be politically disenfranchised.

Brian was genuinely sensitive to the suffering of others. He had his
own share of suffering. Yet he listened, and respected the experience
of others. Brian knew that when the heart breaks in solidarity and
compassion for others, it breaks open. And he did everything he
could to change the world in his brief tenure here.

Many days and nights during the Fast for Life, Brian and I would
exchange thoughts on the meaning of life. He was accessible. Like kids
sharing secrets, we exchanged some good laughs, a few tears, and were
forever bonded in that wonderfully sweet trust that occurs when you
suspect in a moment of vulnerability you've perhaps made a fool of
yourself, said more than you meant too, and your friend doesn't call
your attention to it and loves you anyway. We couldn't figure it out.
The meaning of life, that is. But we came to an agreement, that it
didn't matter. If anything, we liked each other more, for not having
all the answers. (He let me hold onto my idea that I had a few...)
But he believed in service, being of use to something greater than
himself. He had figured that much out. A clarity of conviction.

Brian was open to life, with all its wild thorns and roses.

People who never had the chance to know Brian may think it sentimental
at best and presumptuous at least, to compare him to Che or Jose
Marti. They will think grief has overshadowed judgment. But I have
always said, even while he was among us, that the depth of Brian's
commitment and dedication to his ideals, gave him a distinctive
presence of being, of the stature that history always cries out for.
Anyone who knew him, knows I make no exaggeration in his favor.

Brian was, like Jose Marti was, like Che was, a living incarnation of
international solidarity. He lived, and personally put himself at risk
for what he believed. He gave his life every day, towards the
betterment of life for his brothers and sisters. His was not merely
verbal or symbolic gestures of solidarity, rather, roll up his
sleeves and get at it; jump in it, solidarity. Walking the walk. He
was not afraid of a good fight, IF it was a righteous cause.

And yet, he was ordinary; he retained that boyish playfulness that
made some people underestimate him. What made him
extraordinary was his choice to take the road less traveled.

Truthfully, many thought him "crazy' for coming into a foreign country
and entering into a struggle that could have claimed his life, then
and there ... all for a bunch of old computers. He was Canadian, it
wasn't his fight -- his government had a civilized relationship with
Cuba. But Brian told the story, of how he'd gone into his
grandfather's basement and retrieved that old computer to donate to
Cuba, and how he wanted that particular computer to be donated to
Cuba. That one, that he had carried up from the basement.

It wasn't trivial to him, or acceptable, that the government of the
greatest empire on earth would expend its endless resources in causing
misery, creating suffering for the Cuban people. He saw the future
implications of allowing the US government to violate international
treaties, and act as a rogue state. He understood he had an
obligation not to allow the Canadian government to dismiss or
personalize the "incident" or sweep it under the rug. He rallied
Canada and inspired other countries to become more engaged.

He was a 'team" player because he understood the rigorous demands
that being in solidarity can exact on its individual participants. And
yet,
he was, as we all are, alone when we take a moral stand; each our
own David confronting Goliath. But Brian knew that even the smallest
injustice left unchallenged, festered until it broke your spirit. An
injustice to one, was an injustice to all. It made perfect sense to
him.

He never wavered.

Not when the planes were shot down and the Helms-Burton bill passed,
and everyone said continuing the fast was useless in the current
political climate. Not freezing in the wheelchairs while visiting
members of Congress to whom he was no constituent. Not even when
visited by worried family, and finally even concerned authorities and
told he had, in fact, won "his" victory. The Canadian computers were
free to go. But Brian knew, what we permit, we teach, and he
understood that solidarity knows no borders; until every computer
was free to go, no victory could be claimed. All for one, and his
one, wholeheartedly, for all.

He stayed.

By then, he was so thin, every bone in his body showing ... gaunt
and unrelenting. His blue eyes intent; eye on the prize. He didn't
complain, although, like all of us, I'm sure he had his moments. If he
had them, he kept his doubts and concerns to himself, instead using
his energy to keep up group morale. His staying was never a matter of
pride, it was always a matter of principle.

I am convinced that his act, his personal unwillingness to surrender
given that golden escape hatch offered to him alone, that finally made
clear to the S government the level of determination of the Fast, and
shortly thereafter, under profound international pressure, much
generated by Brian's friends, family and countrymen and women; the
computers were released. Public pressure; international public
pressure had prevailed and won the day.

How great that night, just after midnight, under the florescent
lights, when, exhausted and bleary eyed, we passed around plastic
cups of warm water that rice had been boiled in; and toasted our
true victory. 94 days, the longest fast in American history. We all
hugged, we all had enough "juice" left in us to cry a bit in relief,
in awe, in gratitude. We came through. Together. Alive. That
moment too, had an aura of unbelievability.

When we finally parted, after those three months of fasting, it was
difficult to readjust to 'normal' life. It felt abnormal to be away
from the people who had participated; both fasters and supporters,
because it was impossible to describe to anyone what it had been like.
I missed his impish smile. I missed his daily hug. Brian and I spoke a
few times on the telephone, neither one of us could afford the long
distance. But words had become unnecessary between us by then.

Caravans have been our family reunions. Brian was part of their
landscape. I expected him, took his presence for granted. He was truly
my brother. This year's caravan will be dedicated to Brian. We in the
United States, should think long and hard on the contribution that the
international community brings to our struggle. We hope our Canadian
friends will continue the connection that Brian has built. I believe
I can say Brian would echo Mother Jones, in telling us not to let our
mourning interfere with our organizing. And to take on a bit more, go
that extra mile, because he no longer can. I for one, will keep Brian
Rohatyn, in death, as he has always been to me in life; one of the
greatest inspirations in my life.

Brian always accepted his fight was everywhere there was an injustice,
and he knew that the fight to end the blockade against Cuba can only
be won on one front-in the belly of the beast, called the United
States of America. The caravans continue to be the only direct
challenge to the US blockade against Cuba on US soil. He came, as
selflessly as Europeans came to ride the buses at the beginning of the
civil rights movement. He came, like those Americans who went to Spain
to fight against fascism with the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, he came
like Che to Cuba, like Marti ... knowing what they knew, carrying on
an internationalist tradition.

Sorry, we forgot to put out a suggestion box for all your ideas to smash the state!

August 29th, 2010 (03:14 am)
Tags:

I just got back from the yearly retreat with the Centre for Social Justice where the Toronto Community Mobilization Network was to speak on "reflections from G20 organizing." I got there and realized I was speaking with a rep from the Canadian Labour Congress and another person from this creative non-violence organization. I felt like I was being set up to contend with two people on this whole diversity of tactics issue. And believe me, there are way more reflections to be had on the G20 than diversity of tactics. The talk turned out to be okay - mostly all about diversity of tactics (snore!), but no shouting or accusations of ruining the movement.

But I have to say that now that a lot of people are talking about the G20, the most annoying thing is being surrounded by random people and given random suggestions about what could have been done differently. I don't mind suggestions of moving forward or reflections, but I hate it when a sentence starts with, "You know, what  YOU should have done...." Um, do it yourself! Like, maybe we seemed way bigger than we actually were, but there are some things we couldn't really get down to doing. Not cause we were lazy. But because there were just a few of us working on things like fundraising, getting a convergence space, dealing with housing, transportation, communications.

Here is the best top five suggestions I have received so far:

1. "What you should have done was organize a blockade and take over the QEW or 401."

Thanks for the suggestion! We appreciate your enthusiasm for disruption! However, the TCMN never set out to organize actions. We did specific call outs for communities and groups to respond to the G20 as the see fit. And boy, it would have been exciting to see that happen. Perhaps this is something you could have tried to do. If you bothered to contact us before, we would have put you in touch with other folks with the zeal you have. Oh well! Maybe next time!

2. "What you should have done was not protest at all and embarrass the government for spending 1 billion dollars in security for nothing."

Actually, a lot of us really did feel like not protesting leading up to the days of the G20, but I think it was sheer exhaustion rather than a political point.

3. "What you should have done was conducted a poll with Torontonians on their views of the G20 and use popular opinion to shame the government."

We take it as a compliment that our high level of organization, posters, and outreach gave you the impression that were a multi-million dollar organization that can afford to conduct polls. But sadly, we were named the TCMN for our mobilizing efforts, not our lobbying efforts. However, if you feel conducting polls is the most empowering form of protest, please see response number 1. I believe we had some aspiring pollsters among us.

4. "What you should have done was invite a police liaison into your group so they would grow to trust you and go after the real criminals."

Well, actually we had two police liaisons in our group funny enough. But they were informants. So I guess part of your suggestion happened, although without our invitation (if only informants had the same conditions as vampires and could only attend upon invitation!). But, we actually did ask the police over and over again to arrest the real criminals (ahem, those so-called leaders of the G20). Then we demanded they arrest themselves. Turns out they don't take our suggestions either!

5. "Police will not hurt one segment of the population - children! You should have marched to the fence with children leading. I'm sure if the police saw a group of children leading the march, they would have parted like the Red Sea."

I believe there was a fellow with a magical flute attempting to do this. But he wanted to take the children past the fence and into Lake Ontario. This did not meet our statement of respect and solidarity and the action did not happen. That being said, I like that there are people out there who are into using children as human shields! See how creative we can be with diversity of tactics!

Runner up suggestion:

6. "You guys should have really tried to get famous Hollywood actors actively supporting your group. That way the police would have more hesitation to attack you knowing that someone famous was backing you."

Actually, I used to write to Johnny Depp all the time when I was 12. I revived my fan letters to request his endorsement, but sadly he did not respond (he wears a Che Guevara necklace all the time! He must be on side!).

Again, all suggestions are greatly appreciated. We hope that while you write up a list of everything we could have done differently, you'll take a moment to donate to our Legal Defense Fund at g20.torontomobilize.org and at least help with suggestions of how to get the charges dropped. If you have a personal contact with Johnny Depp, please message me personally.

clash of civilizations

August 9th, 2010 (02:38 am)
tunes: Hannah Georgas

i tried to post while i was away on holidays in BC. really i did. and then I accidentally pressed command B and my webpage went back and lost most of the post. That wasn't good for an already lazy blogger. And although i make promises to blog more, it is difficult to summarize experiences of being harassed by police in the streets of Toronto, being illegally searched all the time for a full week and now trying to keep it together as we fundraise $250,000 for those who got arrested.

But I left for two weeks and was able to write a lot, read and re-focus my priorities. so i feel somewhat okay. still a bit intimidated at the task at hand. but hopeful.

so...do people want to hear about the G20 madness that consumed my life for most of this year? or shall we hear about me and the Norwegian penpal telling his parents that we're getting married?

perhaps the latter. I have had a draft of the G20 reflection, but think I will post it on a more respectable blog like rabble or something.

So a few months ago, there was a discussion that happened in the Beaches area of Toronto. After talking for around an hour, we decided that perhaps the easiest thing to do is close our eyes, grimace and get married. This for several reasons. First, my world of marriage-hating-emma-goldman-quoting polyamoury is severely disconnected from my family's world. They are pretty liberal as it gets - but when it comes to sexuality and gender, it is apparently impossible for them to accept co-habitation without marriage. I think my mom still thinks we just looking gazingly into each other eyes and perhaps steal a quick hand hold on our dates. Secondly, I am growing sick of lying to them. And there are plans to visit Pakistan, and me traveling as an unmarried woman with a white devil would not fly. Finally, we'll never be able to afford a cappuccino maker on our own. i hear sometimes you get one when you get married. Score!! We made a commitment to be as authentic and real to one another and our community, and if it means I sit there in front of an imam for a half hour, then perhaps it will give me more peace than what i deal with right now.

So this means that we will plan an event on our terms. We'll have an Islamic ceremony with no conversion. And then...throw the baddest, funnest party for all of our friends. It will be interesting how it will turn out since we are both known to mock weddings. When I told my friends, the most common reaction has been eyes and mouths wide open with a, "What? You??" When people try to congratulate me, I cut them off before they finish the word, hearing only, "Congra...oh...ok."

Although, as I have been telling more friends, they say there is something poignant about standing up and making promises to the person you love in front of other people. The promise in this case will be sitting down and signing a marriage contract with a negotiated dowry. Another score (for me)!

I told my family in April. First my mom when we travelled in Dubai. She was a bit ambivalent, but I think she was relieved that her 32  year old daughter who still claims to be a socialist revolutionary is no longer going to be a spinster or that G. wasn't merely a beard to hide my obvious lesbianism (I think she thought I was gay for most of my life because of the friends I brought over. and because of how i dressed. and how i talked about equality all the time). She now talks me losing weight, and how i should join jenny craig. It's annoying and offensive, but I guess that means she's excited, right?

The most annoying thing about telling my family is 1. the legitimacy i am receiving as a person and 2. this assumption that now that I am getting married, i can throw my feminist ideals down the tube and accept the reality of patriarchy. About #1 - I did not receive this much praise and congratulations on other, more meaningful events in my life. But suddenly, my life has more meaning! my grandmother calls me more and asks about the Norwegian Penpal. Like the four years of us dating wasn't real. And then, in regards to #2, my mom says things like: "Now that you're getting married, you'll have to take some cooking lessons." In all seriousness! A few weeks ago, we visited my grandmother and uncle near NYC, and they would request the G. to make sure I do things. They would refer to me in the third person when I was sitting right there. Examples:

  • "Make sure you get Sharmeen to check the brake fluid oil." Even though G. doesn't even have a drivers license!
  • "Make sure  Sharmeen does her PhD." although this was refuted by my grandmother with a, "Sharmeen can't just pick up and move and do her PhD when she's married!" At least there's a solid excuse if people ask if I'll do my PhD. "Oh, I was going to, but then I got married! Oh well!"
  • "Make sure Sharmeen no longer goes to Cuba. It is too dangerous there."

I would be fuming with anger and making sarcastic remarks about the merging of identities and how we should move to Saudi Arabia where I would request permission for everything. Poor G. just sat there awkwardly. My family expects this to be a full out Pakistani wedding. G. is into it and my grandmother wants to get him a jodhpuri suit. I think he wants to ride in on a horse.

G. wanted to wait and tell his family in BC in person when we went for two weeks. I told him a phone call might be good enough, but I guess it was a nice sentiment. We first hit his dad's place in Victoria.

I should preface this next part by saying that...it's sometimes difficult doing the whole inter-racial thing. The inherent experiences of whiteness and racism sometimes clash in unexpected ways. small comments. assumptions. taking things for granted. g. and i talk about it a lot, he takes it seriously, we ask "What would Fanon do?" But you don't really see the clash until you meet the white boyfriends family.

G.'s Dad lives in a pretty nice house in Victoria with his second wife and their step-son, who is this 24  year old hippie-type dude who builds yurts in the back yard. They also have a huge, water-front property on Galeano Island. G's dad is this quirky jazz musician and him and his partner travel all over the world.

G. told him when we first got there and they congratulated us for few mins. But then proceeded to ignore us for the rest of the night. They didn't ask me or him any questions about our lives, what I do, etc. Instead, they raved on about G.'s step-brother buying property on Galeano Island. How it was only $208,000 and how they were going to build a yurt for a meditation centre. It was a bit awkward.

I asked Geordie how one, who is 24 and sells organic vegetables from his gardens and the partner who sells organic cider, manages to save enough for $208,000. And the answer: rich parents! riiight.

During the dinner, G.'s dad made a toast like this: "I think we should make a toast. There is, of course, the announcement about the upcoming nuptials. But to the young couple buying their first piece of property on Galeano Island." I almost choked up my tasteless, organic artichoke heart!

I saw G. slipping into a dark place when one goes when your parent disappoints you. And this is the first basic lie about marriage. We see in Hollywood how sons tell their fathers about marriage, and we expect an embrace and a heart to heart conversation, advice about the honeymoon night, etc. I think he was hoping for some alone time over drinks where he could have a bonding moment. This was not the case. I'm sorry, the step-mother did mention it once. she said:

"Well Sharmeen, now that you and G. are getting married, I'm going to be excited to eat your cooking! I really love Indian food!"

I didn't know what to say. And then it dawned on me: this outright preference over private property, orientalist comments about my so-called Indian cooking, building yurts for meditation centres, the ability to buy property with no real steady income, the lack of ability to use spices in cooking - it was like a parody. How whiteness is seen as the superior race, I will never figure out.

After dinner, we sat around looking at maps of the newly bought property. And I wanted to yell, "I know that private property is super awesome, but another form of property is happening with this marriage! you should be happy about that as well!" Instead his father just asked me, "So, are you planning on buying any property in the near future? As I say: buy low and sell high!"

Man, all this time, I have been doing the opposite of that!

By that time, I went to bed and sat staring in bed for a half hour wondering what had just happened. I know marriage is a joke, but now I know that the real worth in some people's eyes is property acquisition. I told G. after that instead of saying we were getting married, he should have told them he was buying me. Perhaps they would feign more excitement.

We left after two days and sped to Courtenay where G.'s mom lives. I was nervous given the tension two years ago when she told G. that Islam is inherently violent and she feared that my family would kill him in an honour killing rage. After we arrived at her 6.5 acre property with a personal pool (!!), we went for dinner and told her. She actually yelped in surprise and then told the waitress that I was her daughter. The waitress looked at her and then me with a quizzical look. but it went well and thankfully, no weird comments or questions about Pakistani cooking. Or our mysterious ways of doing things.

So, it's all out in the open. If you have tips of how to organize this event without losing your soul, please pass it on. I am hoping to compromise a bit, but would rather not throw all my principles out the window.

(no subject)

April 19th, 2010 (03:05 am)

today was spent not wandering too far as i didn't have a map. and most of the street signs are in arabic (they say colonization helped develop the third world, but i disagree! kidding!).  I eventually spent a few hours in a coffee shop doing a very touristy thing which is smoke flavored shisha. and when you buy one pipe, they come around for hours replacing the coal. it's tasty.

Damascus is a lot cooler (weather wise) than Dubai. And I haven't seen much visible poverty. There are illegal settlements/slums along the mountain, but no real homeless population. I was hoping to learn more or read more about Arab socialism, but even though socialism remains part of the country's values (Unity, Freedom and Socialism), i don't see many socialist institutions. no public health care, although there exist free clinics. there's a crappy education system so most people try to pay for private school. I think most opportunity is based on connections to the government or army. And there remains emergency law in Syria because of the conflict with Israel. and there are economic reforms that have brought new stores, but also a more visible gap between the rich and the poor. still, a place with no McDonalds is okay with me.

i sat in a coffee shop reading Fidel Castro: My Life. I wondered if Fidel sat around making lists like I do.

1. Take out laundry
2. Groom beard
3. Meeting with Ernesto on Granma trip to Cuba for revolution

I always use lists as a way to feel more disciplined. In reality, I'm not very disciplined. Or maybe I'm just too unfocused on several different things.

So...my part-time job at the Canadian Media Guild ended right before I left for Syria. It was an anti-climatic end as it began to become difficult to PIRG and then an extra day with the CMG and then bookkeeping on top of that. I began the job excited with the opportunity, but they didn't really use my skills. I felt a bit expendable and felt a bit used. Made me think about jobs and work and how it is next to impossible to find a job not rooted in some strict hierarchy.

I made a list of possible ideas. i promised myself to think about what the next steps are now that my MA is finally done. It was a less than exciting list. I will probably stay with the PIRG for a while, but I think admin work and bookkeeping is slowly killing my soul. Only because so many organizations are asking for my help with bookkeeping and I wish other people would just learn it. Because really, I'm not that good at it. And also, all this admin makes the work of the organization so abstract.

When I mull over the list of possible things to pursue (union work, media work, researching, applying for a PhD) - it's not the most exciting list, or the most practical.  As I begin to pay back my student loans, they swallow up nearly $600 a month of my income. And while i keep working in small non-profits, i have to work two or three to keep up with the payments. I need to find one good job that pays well so I don't go crazy.  The eternal question of every 32 year old: What should I be when I grow up?

It would be so great to read books or graphic novels and propose whether they would be good to be made into movies or not.  I know someone out there has that job. I was telling Salma today that I felt I didn't really have any skills. Or that I have spent a lot of energy in the last ten years doing mostly lefty organization work, and perhaps this was the wrong path to go down considering times are getting more reactionary.   And she kind of grabbed my ear and said that I should continue writing and to apply for work with Al Jazeera since apparently they are hiring like crazy in Doha. And then she suggested doing radio and international development.  I sincerely asked whether she was happy doing that kind of work (she is doing a youth program for the First Lady's office).  And then she went on a long talk about how frustrating development work is because you have no real knowledge or control of what's going on. so you try to manage these projects that don't go anywhere even though these organizations have so much money. we were both depressed about work/career talks after an hour. 

Simon is continually annoyed with us because we talk about sex really loudly in restaurants. It's this typical scene where the girls are giggling and the boyfriend is cowering. He says its quite North American (he's Danish). Him and I have been getting into loud debates about politics. He makes a joke that Salma married a Conservative reactionary, and I tend to agree. I joke back that I can arrange for a re-education camp if he needs it. I personally enjoy the debates, gives me practice on explaining my politics in specific terms. But I think it upsets Salma or embarrasses her. And then she cowers.

Other random facts:
1. All references to homosexual relationships are deleted on Arab television. This makes me wonder why they show Six Feet Under - deleting references to David's sexuality makes a lot of holes in the story line.

2. People drink a lot here. And then rush to the mosque to pray when the azaan is played.

3.  Three people pointed at my fidel book and gave me a smile and a thumbs up. I am told that Syria and Cuba are good friends.

Mosques and Castles

April 18th, 2010 (12:54 am)

First, if i'm not wandering around, i'm stuck in front of the television watching Al-Jazeera English. It's totally amazing! I think the only way I can get it in Canada is through a satellite dish.  

I have had a full, intense two days so far. I am looking forward to just chilling out tomorrow, maybe going to the gym across the street from Salma's apartment and hanging out in a coffee shop. 

Yesterday, after sleeping in, Salma and Simon took me to a swank restaurant for brunch at Aldar Restaurant and ate a bit too much. The thing with eating here is you order a gazillion dishes and it seems okay if you don't finish all the food. Tons of eggplant dishes, hummous, fruit. it's overwhelming. I guess food is gonna a big part of the trip. 

After, we went to Umayyad Mosque, which was packed with tourists and those coming for Friday prayer.  Apparently, this is the first great mosque of Islam and one of the largest. Salma and I had to wear a grey overcourt and cover our hair. Apparently it was first built in part in 600 AD. I will try to upload some photos soon, but I couldn't really speak or function to walk barefoot in such an historical place. the minarets were amazing and the structure was incredible. So amazing what people do for worship.  I saw the Shrine of Hussein Ibn Ali (apparently his head is supposed to be in it, but it was covered) - the son of Ali ibn Abi Talib (you know, the first Shia Imam). People stuffed a lot of Iranian money inside. Also, John the Baptist is buried in the main prayer room. And there is also the Tomb of Saladin. 

The mosque was a chill place with kids running around and people talking, some praying. The one annoying aspect was having to be seperated from the men inside the mosque. Salma told me that his is new as men and women could mix freely. While we wandered around, we saw male security guards barking orders to the women in the women's only section, which kind of put me off the whole religous experience. 

Today was full of old stuff as well. Salma and Simon drove me two hours to Krak des Chevaliers, this old castle used by the hordes of the First Crusade on its way to reclaim Jersualem from Muslims. So for folks really into replicating medieval fights through the Society of Creative Anachronism, this place might be for you. There are old stables and the walls are constructed in a way for archers to shoot and there are a piles of cannon balls lying around. It even has a moat. It's a massive castle. We climbed to the top walls and watched a movie shoot taking place. 

After, we drove to Tartus, this small town on the Mediterrean. Yes, I saw the Mediterranean! We had some lunch and took a boat to Syria's only island Arwad, where there was another smaller fortress which was the last outpost of the Crusades before they were kicked out.  The boat was incredible terrifying - this ricketly old thing were we sat on the edge and our feet dangling off. But the island itself was cute. It could easily be made into a resort place, but it was full of apartments and kids running around in small cramped alleys. 

Some random things: 
1. People like to come up to me to say "Hello, where are you from?" and ask me to take their picture. 
2. Coca-Cola is attributed to Isreal, so there is more Pepsi here. 
3. I'm getting addicted to nargila.
4. Sometimes men in black leather jackets appear and follow us around for a bit. Simon walks away quickly saying they are security. Next time I think i'll just wave and smile. 

It's been great visiting with Simon and Salma. We have been talking a lot of politics, lots of debates. I have always been happier having Salma around - she kind of does this thing where she walks around and sings random songs that come to her head, like her entire brain is a radio scanning different stations.  

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